Libertarians rely on one main edifice for their thinking. Anything is possible so long as the government isn’t “taking” from them or “forcing” them to do anything. Thus, any form of taxation would be illegitimate and a form of coercion. They didn’t ask for this, so any public good is “By the barrel of a gun.”
We are said to deserve the fruits of our labor, and why and certainly to what extent do we owe our labor to others? It stumps so many people because it is a very clever framing trick. His entire premise presupposes the myth of “Pre-tax income.”
If people deserve the money their labor earned, would it not be the case they do not deserve the money they acquired through a contribution that was not theirs? If their labor contributes some amount, but the shovel that is not theirs another amount, how can they be entitled to the money that was the contribution of the shovel?
Money is earned through labor, and a profound nexus of public and civic goods too numerous to mention here. They used the commons to make their money. They owe back into the commons the money that they cost. How can all of the wealth we earn using capital, the public investments without which our earning would be impossible, be entirely ours? It can’t, and no Libertarian, even the best, ever got around this one. At best, they go into a regressive first cause argument, private enterprise gives rise to government not the other way around, but such a battle is futile. Despite which entity is antecedent to the other, they have evolved symbiotically, and as a ladder requires both legs, so too today does wealth creation require the private and the pubic goods.
The libertarian might have a case (A weak one) that things done today, a new moon mission or whatever, might be things he didn’t order. But by choosing to earn wealthy in a society where the vast amount of civic capital is provided for him beforehand, the money he holds in his hand is not all his, period. Once he hears this, he will go into “SHOULD” mode (The favorite word of the Libertarian), and then his arguments will rest on ambitious claims which he cannot possibly demonstrate with any certainty. This is why the Libertarian can never defeat us. I have them down to a science.
As far as policy goes, that simply is NOT the way the world is. He used other people’s tax dollars to make his money. “Pre Tax” income is a nonsensical idea. The Libertarian is the one who wants to steal. He is the one who wants to use the public goods for free.
Taxes are Theft Narrative
Taxes are theft tells us that “your” money is “taken” (confiscated is also a vogue term) from you through force at the barrel of a gun. (The gun narrative is used to make this more dramatic). As is usually the case, examining and refuting a faulty presupposition smuggled in an accepted by most people unknowingly gives us the best rebuttal.
Arguing against a frame often validates the frame and thus commits us to having agreed to several presuppositions without even realizing it. Finding these fallacies undermines the arguments from birth. They fall stillborn from the presses.
The ability that any of us have to earn income and acquire wealth depends only partly on our own individual efforts. It relies as well on the operation of political, economic, and social institutions that make it possible for any of us to “earn a living.” The market system itself is a social construct that could not exist without the structure of laws and government policies. Anyone’s ability to earn income and own property depends on a host of laws – criminal, contract, corporate, and property – and a host of institutions require for their enforcement, police forces and judicial institutions. Beyond these, an infrastructure of transportation, regulatory, and educational institutions, many a part of government, are also needed. My private college could not exist without an extensive public education system that prepares many of our students or the government grants that subsidized loans that support their tuition payments. Viewed in this light, those deductions from your paycheck can be seen as a reimbursement to society for that portion of my earnings derived from social goods.
-The Libertarian Illusion
Everyone born today was the inheritor of a complex and beautiful nexus of infrastructure and legal systems bequeathed to them by the public and the investments of those before them. Countless public goods and guarantors of security are in place ensuring each day they can earn wealth that would otherwise be impossible. Therefore, since without this infrastructure they would not have earned their money, not all of their money if theirs. Thus, the presupposition of that everything you earn is “all yours” is a myth. Some of it is. But you owe for the use of the entities you used. “Pre-Tax” income is an incoherent concept.
Freedom requires Government
Philosophers also distinguish between liberty and the value of liberty. Liberty has little value if those who ostensibly possess it lack the resources to make their rights effective. Freedom to hire a lawyer means little if all lawyers charge fees, if the state will not help, and if you have no money. The right to private property, an important part of liberty, means little if you lack the resources to protect what you own and the police are unavailable. Only liberties that are valuable in practice lend legitimacy to a liberal political order.
Government, Taxes, and basic law is the foundation.
Universally, every story of Economics and every examination of history reveals one unassailable truth that is not subject to refutation. That the pathway to any kind of freedom, the formula for any hope of prosperity through Economic Growth and Wealth Creation leading to a better and more prosperous society relies on one thing. The ability for people to be productive and the right incentives to compel them to act in productive ways. To the extent that governments do that they create growth, and we would even admit, to the extent that they do that, they harm growth. However, no government creates an environment where growth cannot occur.
How can we get our economies to work better? There are two things we need. First, the rule of law. Nobody is going to plant cabbages if roving bands of thugs or corrupt policemen are going to take their cabbages away at harvest time. Second, we need good laws. Nobody is going to plant cabbages if the law requires them to dump their harvest in the swamp or give it all to the taxman.
If you have no confidence that investing your labor and capital will bring a return you will not do it. Without a framework of property rights, square 1, you get no incentive to work and no incentive to create goods for trade. “Wherever there is man and money there are markets.” No. Man will not trade, nor pull anything from the ground to trade if he knows he isn’t safe from the theft of his labor. Markets and trade occur after a secure foundation of property rights and an environment of security and confidence have been created. This requires government protection from foreign attack to avoid free riders, and government protection from domestic private power to avoid freedom belonging to only those who can pay.
Libertarians will grant this (though Anarchists will not), but beyond this, we have an interest in creating those apparatuses that empower people to be more productive in many forms. Infrastructure, Education, Health Care, Training, defense against fraud or greater bargaining power which erodes confidence, job safety to secure health from injury and loss of productivity, and in some cases institutions to alleviate poverty and market cruelties to empower people to be able to work again, instead of leaving them to struggle, to spin their wheels and waste their productivity.
“In the United States, a public defender is a lawyer appointed to represent people who cannot afford to hire an attorney. The 1963 US Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright held that the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel provision requires the government to provide legal counsel to indigent defendants in criminal cases.”
Government insures you have a right to defense, one of the most foundational tenets of any form of meaningful freedom. Anarchists and Libertarians often have conflicting but inconsistent views on how indigent defendants would be represented. But “private services” which would always be run through some incentive structure like profit requiring purchasing power would leave those without money at the mercy of power and conviction. Tyranny, as often stated, is a role taken over by those with money. Modern arguments will often include some “Kickstarter” or private “Gofundme” campaign, where you pool money together from people to pay for private services. This is inconsistent, possibly hopeless, and for those accused of especially heinous crimes (but may not have committed them) pointless. It doesn’t change anything. Freedom becomes available only to those with money.
Extra Market Values
One of the biggest failures of Libertarian philosophy is the reliance on markets for every solution to every problem, even social problems. Markets see what can be traded. Most of the world is in fact invisible to market signals. The market misses the contribution a mother makes to being loving to her children. To a person saving another’s life from drowning. From inspiration and mentoring. We will never know what these contributions were “worth” in
Civil Rights and Discrimination. Religion and Moral Norms. Common mores of decency and culture.
We may not be able to measure well being to a perfect science, but we can make relatively safe assumptions such as, Life is preferable to non life. Subsistence and contentment is preferable to hunger and starvation. Health is preferable to disease and injury, satisfaction is preferable to misery, and broadly shared prosperity is preferable to a winner take all world.
Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.
It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.
It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.
It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.
And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
-Robert F Kennedy
Some clever Libertarians are fond of marginalizing the point of life being priceless by asking ridicuous questions. Is 30 seconds of additional life for a dying 100 year old man worth half our entire GDP? But this misses the point. Thoughtful people don’t think this way. We aren’t asking to give up all prosperity to save a few lost causes. We mean to say only that many things that make life worth living aren’t reducable to profit and loss statements. They don’t show up on a bank ledger. I can’t buy friends and love and good dreams at the Taco Bell. I can’t buy a safe culture and clean air from IBM. For this, we need collection action to solve issues where social goals diverge from market goals.
Consider this: it is usually much easier to calculate the costs of regulations than it is to quantify the resulting benefits for society. For example, one can easily find out how many millions it would cost a utility to install a scrubber on a coal burning utility plant; but how much is it worth in dollars to save a life, or to reduce disease, or to have cleaner air? There are no markets for such things, and so they are difficult to “monetize.” This means that many benefits will always seem less important than the costs of the proposed regulations. – Government is Good
Thoughtful Question for Libertarians: How do you promote equality and justice through markets? They aren’t equipped for that. It isn’t the tool for that. They respond to price signals and purchasing power. Why do you think everything that matters to everyone in this world can be bought and sold? Or rather, do you think everything that is important to everyone in this world is bought and sold? (Not everything worth living for is bought and sold. Not everything is available through trade. How do you “Buy” justice? Would you even want to? Is your conception that everything in this world, really can be, bought though privately enforced contract?
The entire world cannot be reduced to trade. We don’t look at another person and immediately think “What can I get from them?” Some people do but most likely a minority. Markets see goods and services that can be traded. Many things cannot be captured by the price mechanize and so cannot be monetized. Here is one of the greatest failing of Libertarianism. They love to reframe the issue as “picking winners and losers.” But we need some things that cannot be purchased through markets. We need to reduce disease, provide safer environments, clean air, and reduce loss of life. It’s easy to calculate the cost of a regulation up front and you’ll never notice the benefit of the time it saved on a balance sheet. But you would have noticed the loss of life and so would the family. The human mind does well with knowledge but poor with Anti-knowledge. Sometimes we must make our best guess – regulate dangerous things because we think it will save lives. If we didn’t, one certain thing is more people would die, which is a cost greater than any bank ledger.
Some Libertarians are even beginning to realize this fallacy in their economic thinking. Thomas Sowell in his update to his recent book marginalizes the term by putting quotes around the important part “Extra Market” Values. This is of course a rhetorical device to marginalize or mock the idea in quotes. Instead of addressing the issue or agreeing that some things cannot be reduced to trade, they would rather dismiss the evidence altogether and rely on some form of parlor trick, mental gymnastics, or evasion. “Of course, if you really look at it, there are no extra market norms and the market can cure everything, really.” This to me tells you a lot about what you need to know about these sorts of people. Robotic computing machines, so enamored in faith by markets that simply nothing can demonstrate to them that there are things outside of markets that we value. Privatize everything, make no attempt to built a better culture outside of what can be bought and sold, and any contribution that cannot be monetized, such as saving a life or being loving to a child, is worthless.
Divergence of Market and Economic motives
One of the main problems with Libertarianism is that it cannot account for any disparity between social and economic motives. If the only verdict is the market verdict, any market failure, which are incessant and pervasive if not completely ubiquitous, will translate directly into social and societal failure.
Great observations and posts on Libertarianism from around
We may as well just call what Republicans and libertarians want what it actually is: feudal government by rich lords, which the middle class replaced with a dependent peasantry. The rich who employ get to make the rules, rather than the government of the people. – Laura Teller
I find it humorous that libertarians think that the alternative to our government is “no” government. The alternative is private de facto government which is far more powerful and unrestrained in terms of its effects on our daily lives than our government is. The idea that we can live like happy little fauns with no evil lords or force inthe absence of representative government is incredibly naive.